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Epstein: ‘Empty feeling’ after not making deals

07.31.10 at 6:50 pm ET
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Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said that, yes, there was a bit of an “empty feeling” after his front office had worked feverishly in hopes of achieving an upgrade prior to this trade deadline season, only to make two moves that added nothing to the major league club.

“In past years, we’€™ve been able to make trades that immediately impact our big league team and that’€™s a really satisfying feeling. Other years we haven’€™t been able to and come away with a bit of an empty feeling,” said Epstein. “Today is more the latter. It’€™s not the end of the story. We have August. We have a team that has the ability to get really hot as we get healthy and play our way right back to where we want to go. We have the ability to add in August as well and get contributions from our internal solutions.

“That’€™s not the whole story,” Epstein added, “but if you ask me are we frustrated that we weren’€™t able to help this team today, yeah, we are.”

In the end, rather than add a big league reliever, the Red Sox subtracted one, dealing away Ramon Ramirez to the Giants for a Double-A reliever.

The team also acquired a player who represents a potential project in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a catcher with significant upside but who had fallen out of favor in the Rangers organization, resulting in a buy-low opportunity for a player whom the Sox had liked for some years. But while Epstein said Saltalamacchia could impact the Sox in the short-term, the greater likelihood is that his impact — if any — will be felt in future big league seasons.

Even so, Epstein made clear that the front office believes firmly that the Sox can get hot and reach the playoffs this year. The team will continue to explore the possibility of August reinforcements for a group that has the potential, according to Epstein, to turn on the jets down the home stretch.

“I want to be clear that we still think we have the ability to make the postseason,” said Epstein. “We have to get really hot. And as we get healthier we start to see the team on the field that can get really hot. We were healthy in April, and didn’t play up to our capabilities. That was a real frustration around here. Now that we’re getting healtier, we get our team back on the field, there’s a feeling in that clubhouse and in our front offie that we have the ability do what we didn’t do in April, and that’s run off a bunch of wins in a row. And that’s what it’s going to take to make up this ground. We still have a feeling that that has a good chance of happening. That’s why we’re going to continue to be aggressive looking for help in August.”

The team, which entered today trailing the Yankees by 7 1/2 games in the AL East and the Rays by 6 1/2 games in the wild card, was willing to sacrifice some of its better prospects (though perhaps not its top-tier minor leaguers) in pursuit of that goal. When they did not match up with other organizations on either outfielders or relievers, the Sox instead decided that they would pursue their upgrades internally.

Hence, the team made the decision to shift Felix Doubront to the bullpen for the rest of the season in hopes that he (along with Michael Bowden, who is eligible to be recalled on Aug. 2) can serve as part of the solution to an area of team weakness this year. Likewise, rather than paying a handsome premium for an oufielder, the Sox decided to turn to up-and-coming prospect Ryan Kalish in hopes of boosting both their outfield offense and defense.

Some of the points made by Epstein:

–The Sox do not yet have an announcement regarding Mike Lowell. Epstein hoped to sit down with the corner infielder following the game.

–The Sox thought they had made the sort of proposals to make a deal. The GM suggested that the club was aggressive in its offers in recent days.

“In the last couple days, we made aggressive proposals. We weren’€™t sure if we wanted to go all the way, and we did, and the other teams considered it, and in the end decided to hold on to their guy,” said Epstein. “We had three or four of those scenarios, where we thought that if we offered X, Y and Z, we’€™d definitely get this guy, and we didn’€™t. So we didn’€™t get that part of it done.”

–The Sox were aggressive in exploring the market for middle relievers, but the team was not going to part with some of the top prospects in its system to address that need and acquire a player who might contribute 20 innings or so. Unlike the 2009 deadline, when the Sox dangled elite prospects such as Clay Buchholz in return for players such as Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay, this year, the Sox weren’t as willing to part with elite prospects.

“If you look at the trade market in general, last year we were talking about guys who were 10-time All-Stars if not Hall of Fame type talent. And this year on the market, it was a different mix,” said Epstein. “We were talking more about middle relievers, and guys like this. That’s the nature of it. This year is not as talented. Are we going to give up our best or second best prospect for what might amount to a marginal upgrade? Probably not in any year. That doesn’t have to do with where we are in the standings.”

–Epstein said that the trade market did not match up well with the Sox’ needs. The top players moved were starting outfielders, and there were also first base/DH options to be had. The Sox required neither.

What the team did need was relievers, and once a pitcher like Washington closer Matt Capps was traded to the Twins for a highly regarded catching prospect such as Wilson Ramos, the bar was set at a place above which the Sox wanted to go in order to reinforce their ranks.

“[The trade market] was deep in starting pitchers, deep in bats, DH-type bats, pretty thin in relievers, pretty thin in outfielders. We were on the wrong end of that supply and demand dynamic this year, because we needed relievers and outfielders,” said Epstein. “If we wanted to be competitive in that market, we needed to pay high prices. I think we thought we were going to get something done, and we were disappointed in the end that we couldn’€™t.

“The teams that did trade their closers, per se, I think did really well. The prospects that they got back kind of set the market, that the other teams that had legitimate, impactful relievers, were going to not move them unless they got a similar type of impact back, and I think that’€™s why you see them not get moved.”

–As for the relief market behind the closers, Epstein noted that there were several relievers moved, but the Sox were focused on those who were elite, rather than on a buy-low pitcher who might be able to help down the road.

“A lot of relievers were moved. A lot of the guys we were in on were relievers who we felt would have been clear, obvious, definite upgrades for us, guys who would have come right into the mix and represented upgrades, guys we could have put in behind [Daniel] Bard and [Jonathan] Papelbon and helped this team immediately,” said Epstein. “We weren’€™t necessarily in the market just for a reclamation project or somebody that we sort of hoped would help us.”

–The team will remain aggressive in August. Though in order for the team to be convinced to invest significant resources in a trade during the waiver period, the club will need to get hot, something that Epstein believes it is capable of doing once healthy.

“I think we have the resources, both in prospects and dollars, to reach out in August, if appropriate, to help this team. Helping the 2010 team is definitely a goal for today,” said Epstein. “Along with doing some things for the future, the primary goal is helping the 2010 team, we weren’€™t able to do that, so that’€™s a disappointment, and something that remains a goal going into August, especially if we get off on the right foot, the way we expect to play in August. We need to have a big August to get where we want to go, if we do get off on the right foot, we can find the right player, certainly.”

–Epstein said that the team determined that Kalish represented as much of an outfield grade as whatever might be available on the trade market.

“We were looking to upgrade the trade market and when it was clear that wasn’€™t going to materialize, we decided rather than putting someone like a Ryan Kalish in a deal that we would regret some day, with the way his development is going, he’€™s ready for a trial here at the major league level,” said Epstein. “He brings a lot of energy, brings an advanced approach to the plate, brings a solid all-around game. Those are things that we could use right now.”

There is no set duration for Kalish’s first trial in the big leagues. But the team views him as a useful contributor for however long he will be up.

“Just trying to spark the team a little bit with a young guy that we feel that is just about ready and that way we won’€™t make trade we’€™ll regret. I think Ryan is as good as some of the guys we could have acquired in this outfield market,” said Epstein. “We’re not looking at him as a savior. He’s here because of the things he brings to the table, his overall game, his advanced approach at the plate, the energy and intensity that he plays with. … He’s a good baseball player.”

–The team does not have a timetable for the return of Jacoby Ellsbury.

“As much as we need him back here, we don’t want to rush him back here before he’s ready to hit,” said Epstein. “We’re going to be aggressive with it, day to day depending on how he feels and how ready he looks to come up and compete.”

–The team has long coveted Saltalamacchia, having pursued the switch-hitting catcher both when he was with the Braves and again after he went to the Rangers in the trade for Mark Teixeira. Saltalamacchia, once considered an elite prospect, has endured a number of struggles, but Epstein said that the Sox viewed this as a chance to buy low on a player with significant potential at a position of need.

“We’€™d scouted him heavily this year. He was obviously a guy we’€™d liked a lot in the past who came with a really heavy price tag in the past. He’€™s someone we hope we’€™re buying low on right now as he’€™s battling a few different issues,” said Epstein. “Obviously, he had the health issue where he had the surgery on the thoracic outlet syndrome this past winter. He had a difficult recovery from that. and then he battled some throwing issues earlier this year, but didn’€™t take time off, really battled through them.

“We had scouts in there very recently on him, actually right up until the deadline. He’€™s throwing the ball back to the pitcher fine, throwing to the bases pretty well. We feel like he’€™s a classic guy with a high ceiling who needs a change of scenery. He’€™d kind of been butting heads with the organization over there a little bit. He’€™s a guy we think we can work with to unleash that potential.”

–Epstein spoke enthusiastically about reliever Daniel Turpen, the 23-year-old reliever whom the Sox got from the Giants in exchange for Ramirez. Turpen throws from an “almost sidearm” low arm slot and has what Epstein called “the makings of three above-average pitches.”

“There’s a chance given service time and some other things that there might be some turnover in the pen and he’€™s someone who can be part of the solution looking ahead. Maybe not this year, but looking at our future bullpen,” said Epstein. “He’€™s a performer that comes from a difficult arm angle, keeps the ball on the ground and throws strikes. We like his demeanor and the three-pitch mix.”

Turpen has a 4.09 ERA in Double-A this year, and a 2.69 mark in his four pro seasons.

Read More: daniel turpen, felix doubront, jarrod saltalamacchia, matt capps
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